Aulus stepped back as a messenger brought a missive to the Augustus. He found himself a little annoyed at the sudden sense of trepidation and put it down to the sudden scrutiny his family had come under for no apparent reason. The Emperor must receive hundreds of written communications daily; even as a provincial governor, Aulus had been the recipient of several score of letters and notes all seemingly of the utmost importance. He was not so self-centred that he was convinced any such message must concern him, but he could not completely dismiss the notion that perhaps it did.
"I hope that you will forgive the presumption, Augustus, but I find myself in the middle of a... delicate situation, concerning one of your own Praetorians," he said once Caesar had returned the note to the guard, without saying a word in reply to whatever its contents might be. "One of my slaves was picked up and taken to the Castra Praetoria where he was questioned with regard to my connections to certain men including but not limited to Lucius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Scaurus. It was suggested that my loyalty to you might be in doubt."
If Quintus himself thought that Aulus was poised to betray him, then there was nothing that Aulus could do to stem the tide. If, however, it was all due to the Praetorian in question as Aulus suspected it was, then he had at least made the Emperor aware of it. And his relationship with Quintus went back a good twenty years or so - to Aulus' service as a tribune many years before Quintus had risen to the purple. Twenty years of loyal service would not easily be put aside, by either man - or at least that was Aulus' fervent hope.
To Titus Sulpicius Rufus, from his dear friend Aulus Calpurnius Praetextatus,
After writing that opening, I have had to put my pen down to relieve the writer's cramp that comes from writing the incredibly long name I was graced with - I supposed I could have been cursed with 'Octavius' to make it longer, though. The domus is fine, a crack or two in a couple of interior walls and some plaster off in the atrium, which are both easily repaired.
A beach party at Neapolis? I am sure that Horatia Justina will have no objection to spending some time by the sea, and Calpurnia and my Titus will love it, especially in the company of other young people their age. (It is hard to believe Titus Calpurnius will be taking his toga virilis in the next couple of years - where has the time gone?)
If you are taking Cassius Longinus with you, most certainly we will come - although I am uncertain of the reception if he is surrounded by happily-married couples on the way. He has not been himself lately at all, and went haring off to his country villa almost without letting anyone know the wedding was not to happen. I am glad you have talked him round, at least this far.
Sun, sea and sand may well help raise his spirits - we can but pray.
Farewell, my friend
"Thank you for being honest with me." It couldn't have been easy for her; Aulus was the most powerful man in her life and for someone to have threatened her like that - and moreover, to have threatened her mistress and master... Of course she had been shaken.
"You can go," he said. The interview had only needed to be brief, after all, and she had needed the reassurance. She had probably not been in a state of mind to take it in yesterday, which was understandable.
He would need to reassure Horatia of Callista's loyalty too; the thought that she had voluntarily offered to report the family's movements to him had not sat well with her and while Aulus had suspected that was not the case (and had those suspicions confirmed both by Felix and Callista), it wouldn't hurt to reassure Horatia.
And this issue had to be dealt with. At least now he had more of an idea what they were up against and how to counter it.
"If they have any grievance to make, they can make it to me," Aulus said dryly. "I've never used it - not when it's harder to access from the main entrance, and it seems a waste to just let it sit there. Anyway. it would look a lot nicer with some pot plants and a bit of attention. And some fresh paint if you want to go that far - I am sure there are craftsmen who would fall over themselves to be given a commission for the Governor's palace."
He shook his head at her question. "It's quite big enough, I think, at least for the moment. How many unused rooms does one building need? I might add a new basilica for the forum, or something else for the city, but the Praetorium will do quite well enough without adding more to it." He poured himself a cup of wine and looked at her over the rim of the goblet. "What about you, though? It isn't unknown for women to commission some sort of building project to benefit the people of the town. Would you like to do something of that sort?"
"I don't pretend to be any sort of gardener, but plants needs light, from what I understand. I am sure we can do better than some poky store-room, though. Somewhere with a lot of light, that isn't used all that much. Or hardly at all. Have you thought about the second audience chamber?" His predecessor had added to the rambling Praetorium, adding a new audience chamber, which Aulus used when he had to hear petitions from the people he ruled (in Augustus' name!) and the older room, smaller, had been left very much forgotten since.
"Would that suit your purposes, do you think?"
"No, no, it's all right - I hadn't meant to criticise you or anything," he said, suddenly concerned that he might have upset her. It was always the woman's fault if she did not get pregnant, or if the child was the wrong sex or something - which was idiotic, really, if it required a man's participation before the woman got with child. "I hadn't meant to blame you. I merely meant that motherhood suits you."
He felt as if he'd just put his foot through a rotten plank - or the conversational equivalent - without seeing the warning signs. "Don't feel bad about it - the gods have blessed us with two perfect children, why should we grumble that we don't have more?"
Plenty of patrician families had no more children that they did, they were hardly unusual in that regard. "Let's talk of lighter things... What was your idea for an indoor garden?"
"I honestly cannot think of anywhere I would rather be than right here with you, my dove," Aulus said, and laughed. "That would make for a crowded domus, I think. You know, I think it would be a good thing to set up our own home when we return to Rome - subject to what my father says, of course. I don't think that it would be at all easy for you to give up running your own home now, not after running the Governor's home for him. And very well, I might add."
There was a pause as Horatia moved her hand up to smooth his brow. "I was just thinking, you are an excellent mother. I could wish that you had had more children so that you would not have to face the lack of young people so soon. I can already tell that you will feel it dreadfully when they have both begun their adult lives."
He would be concentrating on his career, of course - but how would Horatia fill her time? She would probably find something - he could imagine her setting up some charitable project or institution, suitable for a woman. Or interfering ever more with the way the slaves did their chores. No, no, that would not be like her.
Not very much, anyway.
"Well, I can't promise not to marry our daughter off like that, but I can promise to take her wishes, and yours, into account when considering marriage partners for her," Aulus said. Sons passed on the family name, daughters helped forge familial alliances by marriage. He had no intention of marrying Calpurnia off to someone old enough to be her father, but if a fellow Senator came to propose such a marriage, he would have to consider it very carefully, simply because that was the way the world worked. He would far rather his daughter marry someone suitable for her temperament - he had no wish for her to be unhappy, after all. "There is no rush, though, she should enjoy her youth - and you should be able to cherish the time you have with her without feeling that it is coming to an end too soon."
She would always be Horatia's daughter, of course, and whatever happened, she would always be able to return to her parents' home - but it was years yet before she would have to consider leaving it.
"I think she would perhaps be surprised, and not a little disappointed, that grown-ups have to do a great deal of things they don't want to," he added. He stroked Horatia's hand. Even if Calpurnia Horatia did not marry until she was nearly twenty, the years left before then would still be all too short for Horatia Justina. Aulus wished that she could have had more children, to delay the looming emptiness of their future home, but it had not happened. If their marriage had broken down, she would have been emancipated from her father had she borne a third child, such was the ruling of the Lex Juliae, from the early days of the Empire.
"I had heard that, but it didn't feel right speaking with him before I'd spoken with you, Augustus," Aulus said. He finished his own wine, handed the cup to a waiting slave and followed the Emperor through another door into a private courtyard.
"I think the thermae will be my major project for the year, although I do intend to allocate funds for the Domi Alimenta, which will no doubt please the Augusta. I am sure that Horatia Justina would also like a way to be involved - she is quite the organisational force. You may have heard of the ladies' reading club she has set up?" Maybe not, unless Quintus and Octavius had discussed it; Quintus Flavius would likely be far too busy with projects of much greater importance.
"Well, the reason that you find so many pretty young women are married to hoary decrepit old senators is because a man's career generally gets in the way of him marrying much younger," Aulus told her. There was a nine-year gap between himself and Horatia, but he rarely remembered it, partly because he had married young (for a man - most of them were in their thirties or so when they reached a point when they could marry) and partly because Horatia's steadiness and sense had always set her apart from other girls her age. His own career had very much come between the two of them for six long years - something he didn't want to have happen again, if he could avoid it.
He held her hand in his, the sunlight gleaming on the ring she wore and sparking off the blue gemstone it was set with, carved with two clasped hands. It was a pretty ring, more delicate than his own signet ring, as befit a woman of her high status.
"A week in April?" He smiled. "There is absolutely no reason at all that my own inspection of the fortifications could not take place that same week, and therefore there would be no need for you to hang around here waiting for me. That makes perfect sense. I presume Calpurnia would go with you? Though she may find it intensely dull unless there are others of her own age."